Can people with diabetes eat potatoes?

Before You Pass the Potatoes, find out the history, nutritional facts and perspectives from a diabetes educator about this popular, starchy root. 

Diabetes Problem Foods, Pt. 2

Baked potatoes, french fries, mashed potatoes, and potatoes au gratin, oh my! The list goes on and on for this versatile starchy vegetable that may be on most homes’ holiday or Sunday menus. Many people, including people with diabetes (PWD), avoid or limit potatoes because they focus more on the word “starchy” and less on a potato's potential health benefits. 

Starches are one of the three subcategories of carbohydrates, and potatoes are complex starches, meaning that they provide a steadier form of energy due to the additional nutrients within the food. Complex starches breakdown at a much slower rate than just simple sugars. Here is some helpful information that you may not know about potatoes and how you can include potatoes in a healthy meal plan. 

History of Potatoes

Around 8000 to 5000 B.C., Incas in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes. In 1719, potatoes became a common dish across the country because of the simplicity in growing the crop and the ability to feed a large number of people with it. It is no wonder that, in 1995, potatoes became the first vegetable grown in space! 

Potatoes, an American staple food, come in 7 different categories: russet, red, fingerling, blue/purple, white, yellow, and petite. In Ayurveda, potatoes may be soothing and provide a host of positive benefits ranging from mood support to a role in preventing kidney stones. 

Potato Nutritional Information

While one medium potato ( 2 ¼ - 3 ¼ diameters, 213g) is a moderate calorie food at 163 calories, potatoes are a high glycemic index food, averaging 80-90. Yet, potatoes contain critical nutrients for the body, such as Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, fiber, iron, and potassium. 

Based on a 2, 000 calorie diet, potatoes provide: 

  • 30% of the water-soluble Vitamin B6, which aids in energy production, the making of hemoglobin (the protein which transports oxygen throughout our body), and proteins (the essential building blocks of your body and a source of fuel). 

  • 70% of the recommended intake of Vitamin C, which helps to stabilize cells, aid in skin healing and immune system efficiency as well as assisting iron in transporting oxygen throughout the body. 

  • 18% of the recommended intake of fiber, almost 5 grams. Fiber, a complex carbohydrate, is one of the other subcategories of carbohydrates and helps to reduce cholesterol, increase satiety, and may have a positive effect on blood pressure. 

  • 25% of potassium, which regulates our electrical and muscular systems throughout the body. 

  • 12% of magnesium, which helps to regulate muscle and nerve function and normal blood sugars. 

  • 9% of iron, which plays a role in getting oxygen to our tissues and making hormones. 

Potato FAQ

How can I minimize the glycemic impact of potatoes? 

  1. Try pre-cooking potatoes and reheat a potato when you are ready to eat it, or eat cold to reduce the glycemic impact

  2. Try a potato in a variety of preparations before you cut it out of your meal plan completely. The index values of potatoes differ. 

  3. Be your own detective by trying a small portion, like a small potato, and check your blood sugars 2 hours after the first bite. A blood sugar of 180 or less is ideal. 

  4. Clean and eat the skin. Most of the nutritional content of potato is in the skin. 

  5. Add healthy toppings, tomatoes, Greek yogurt instead of sour cream, avocado, homemade vegan butter, or cheese. 

What are some alternatives to including potatoes in a meal plan? 

Sweet potatoes are a good option for mashed potatoes, as well as many other vegetables such as cauliflower, squash, carrots, parsnips, and turnips. Mashed vegetables may be a better option for those who wish to reduce carbohydrates. Also, consider zucchini chips in place of potato chips. Whole grains are another option for side dishes and go well with many entrees. Eating a variety of plant foods increase your chance of obtaining many of the essential nutrients that your body needs to maintain balance. 

Are potatoes part of a diabetic diet? 

All potatoes can be a valid food choice for PWD in moderation and with portion control.  

The American Diabetes Association considers sweet potatoes a superfood because one sweet potato is packed with Vitamin C and provides more than 100% of the recommended daily intake of Vitamin A. 

What is the best way to include potatoes in my meal plan? 

Here are a few suggestions. 

You can bake your potato (baked whole potato or baked fries) or mash them. You can include potatoes in soups (clam chowders, broccoli, and cheese potato soup) and snacks (home-baked sweet potato or regular potato chips). Include a small portion of potatoes by adding to omelets, combined with other veggies, such as baked jicama, spinach, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms. Include potatoes as a side dish with a garden or caesar salad. 

Remember to focus on balancing your meals with correct portion sizes before you cancel a food out. 

Here are some resources for you to find out more about potatoes and how to use them in your overall meal plan. 

Potato Goodness 

Everyday Diabetic Recipes 

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